Not much has changed in the race for governor, as the spring filing deadline gets closer. On the Republican side, Attorney General Bill Schuette remains the frontrunner to succeed term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder. Meanwhile, Snyder’s political helpmate, Brian Calley, has been unable to move beyond low double-digits in public polling.
However, the former banker and Baptist deacon-turned-politician from Ionia County isn’t conceding, not least because many in the Snyder administration have a deep and persistent hatred of Schuette predating the Flint water scandal.
Snyder has been upset with Schuette’s political posturing from the earliest days of his governorship. Whether it was Schuette’s breakfast on the morning of the inaugural on New Year’s Day 2011 that overshadowed the governor, or his steadfast defense of the state’s constitutional definition of marriage, even when it became clear that preserving the ban was a lost cause, the divide between the governor and the attorney general has always been wide.
However, Snyder and Calley have only themselves to blame. While political history teaches us that lieutenant governors generally fail at ascending to the governorship in their own right there was a path for Calley had Snyder cared about political machinations.
Yes, Snyder has been a partisan when required, but, by and large, the governor has abdicated his duties as titular head of the Michigan Republican Party. His ignorance of party politics has at times haunted him, as some of his administration’s fiercest critics have been Republicans.
Flashback to 2014. Calley probably would have lost re-nomination at the state GOP convention if the Michigan Freedom Fund, whose patron is now-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and other establishmentarians had not gone all-in by fielding candidates and funding races for the largely hereunto ignored party office of precinct delegate.
Yet even this very real lesson in politics 101 didn’t teach Snyder the importance of political patronage. Had the governor played the game and appointed Republican foot soldiers to seats — many of which are sinecure offices — on the 200-plus boards and commissions that exist within the apparatus of state government then things may have been turned out differently for Calley.
Not only would he have been a shoo-in for re-nomination four years ago, but there would be a Snyder machine ready to help the lieutenant governor in his campaign to win the governorship. Having been denied patronage appointments, the GOP’s rank-and-file have little loyalty to Snyder and Calley, especially when Schuette has filled his calendar with after-dinner speaking engagements on the party’s rubber-chicken circuit for years.
Calley’s only hope at winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination is state Sen. Patrick Colbeck.
That would explain why some associated with Calley’s campaign have been talking up Colbeck, as every vote for the tea party senator from Canton Township is a vote from Schuette’s column. Notwithstanding Calley’s false flag operation to split the conservative vote by promoting Colbeck, the fundamental dynamics of the race still favor Schuette winning the gubernatorial nomination.
Schuette should ignore attacks on his right-flank — he has the Trump administration’s support — and instead solidify his position as Snyder’s heir presumptive by naming not only a running mate but also his cabinet.
Dennis Lennox is a political commentator and public affairs consultant.